British hip hop
Learn more about British hip hop
British hip hop is a genre of music, and a culture that covers a variety of styles of rap music made in the United Kingdom.<ref name="times">The Times Newspaper, Home grown - profile - British hip-hop - music, by Angus Batey, 26 Jul 2003</ref> It is sometimes known as Brithop<ref name="brithop">BBC News website: Is UK on Verge of Brithop boom, by Ian Youngs, 21 Nov 2005 (accessed 01 Nov 2006) </ref>, and is generally classified as one of a number of styles of Urban music.<ref>BBC Website - Music: Urban (accessed 01 Nov 06)</ref> British hip hop, was originally influenced by the hip hop scene in New York City, at first being very much in awe of the American innovators, with British rappers often adopting American accents in the early years, before gaining the confidence to develop their own styles. The growth of British hip hop was given a boost when in 2002, the BBC launched a digital radio station 1Xtra devoted to "new black music" including hip hop, RnB, garage, dancehall, and drum and bass.<ref>BBC Website: 1xtra, (accessed 01 Nov 06)</ref>, however 1Xtra does not play exclusively British hip hop. The cable and satellite, Channel U has also enhanced the profile of British hip hop. In 2003, The Times newspaper described British hip hop's broad ranging approach:
"...'UK rap' is a broad sonic church, encompassing anything made in Britain by musicians informed or inspired by hip-hop's possibilities, whose music is a response to the same stimuli that gave birth to rap in New York in the mid-Seventies.<ref name="times">The Times Newspaper, Home grown - profile - British hip-hop - music, by Angus Batey, 26 Jul 2003</ref>
Hip hop in the UK never achieved the same kind of cultural impact, or levels of success as it did in the US, but US acts were all too prolific in the UK. British hip hop began to make a virtue out of this, equating commercial success with "selling out" and championing the ideal of the British underdog struggling financially but staying true to the dream.
 Origins of British hip hop
|Music of the United Kingdom|
|Early popular music||England|
|1950s and 60s||Scotland|
|1990s to present||Caribbean and Indian|
|Genres: (Samples) Classical - Folk - Hip hop - Opera - Popular - Rock - Jazz|
|Timeline: 1999 - 2000 - 2001 - 2002 - 2003 - 2004 - 2005 - 2006|
|Awards||Mercury, Brit Awards|
|Charts||UK Singles Chart, UK classical chart, UK Albums Chart|
|Media||NME - Melody Maker|
|National anthem||"God Save the Queen"|
|Regions and territories|
|Birmingham - Cornwall - Man - Manchester - Northumbria - Somerset|
Following an initial flurry of interest from major record labels in the 1980s, by the early 1990s the scene had moved underground after the record companies pulled back from the genre, disappointed by its inability to cross-over to make vital sales in the US market. However, in the mid-1990s a new generation of British rappers were beginning to emerge who had the ability and the confidence to take on the American superstars. Hip hop in the UK started to experiment and diversify - often mutating into different genres entirely, such as trip hop, Garage or Drum n Bass - and crucially (from the record companies' point of view) starting to make inroads into the US market.
Nowadays, British hip hop is enjoying its second coming - managing to be popular without "selling out" and innovative without being off-putting. Although still not as popular worldwide as its American forebearer, the UK scene's popularity is growing at home and UK rappers and DJs are earning respect from American artists and fans.
UK hip hop is similar to its US counterpart, but has its own unique hallmarks. In the sense that US hip-hop usually comes from poor, predominantly black, areas, most of the music from the UK is produced by rappers in their bedrooms, from multi-cultural backgrounds and different areas of the country, with different styles of life. UK hip hop also usually comes from the main urban areas: London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester, but also from many other smaller cities and towns.
 Early years: 1980s
As in the US, British hip hop emerged as a scene from graffiti and breakdancing, and then through to DJing and rapping live at parties and club nights. As such, it's hard to pin it down to any one originator or birth place: by the early 1980s the scene was starting to grow, with its supporters predominantly listening to and influenced by American hip hop. There were, however, British tunes starting to appear - the first ever British hip hop tune released on record was "London Bridge" by Newtrament and released on Jive records in 1984 <ref name="low">Low Life/British hip hop, UK hip hop: the story (accessed 02 Nov 06)</ref>, but prior to this British artists were rapping live or recording tapes which were passed around from fan to fan. There were earlier mainstream pop records which dabbled with rap - such as Adam and the Ants' "Ant Rap" from the Prince Charming (CBS, 1981) LP, Wham's "Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do)" (Inner Vision, 1982) or Malcolm McLaren's "Buffalo Gals" (Charisma, 1982) - but these are generally considered pop appropriations of US rap, rather than the dawn of British hip hop culture. However, there are arguments to the contrary, such as this one by Greg Wilson.
Over the next few years, more UK hip hop and electro music started to sneak out: Street Sounds Electro UK (Street Sounds, 1984), which was produced by Greg Wilson and featured an early appearance from MC Kermit, who later went on to form the Wilson produced Ruthless Rap Assassins; The Rapologists' "Kids Rap/Party Rap" (Billy Boy, 1984); DJ Richie Rich's "Don't Be Flash" (Spin Offs, 1985). Releases were still few and far between, however, and the scene remained predominantly underground and live.
Although record labels were starting to take note of the underground scene, radio play and publicity were still a major difficulty in helping the fledgling scene to grow: this would be a major problem throughout the 1980s and 1990s for British hip hop, and often the scene only managed to survive through word of mouth and the patronage of pirate radio stations which blossomed (and, more often than not, then disappeared) around the country. However, mainstream radio did play British hip hop on occasion, and instrumental in bringing the scene to the attention of the country at large were DJs like Dave Pearce and Tim Westwood, and particularly John Peel who often championed British rappers to his diverse audience.
 The first British hip hop labels
A major milestone in the history of British hip hop was the creation of the first UK record label devoted to releasing UK hip hop acts in 1986. Simon Harris' Music of Life record label brought the underground scene into the light, primarily through the success of rapper Derek B - the first UK rapper to achieve chart success.
Building on Derek B's success, Music of Life went on to discover and sign legendary British hip hop groups, such as Hijack, the Demon Boyz, Hardnoise (later Son of Noise) and MC Duke. Their Hard as Hell series fast became essential listening for the discerning British hip hop fan, mixing homegrown talent like Thrashpack and the She Rockers with attention getting US artists such as Professor Griff. Music of Life laid the foundations for other UK hip hop record labels to be founded, such as Mango Records and Kold Sweat.
Moving away from its US roots, British hip hop started to develop its own sounds: pioneers like Hijack, Hardnoise, and Silver Bullet developed the fast and hardcore style that is primarily associated with the scene, but many other rappers and groups didn't feel comfortable within this style and took their influences from elsewhere. Caveman and Outlaw Posse developed a jazz influenced style, whilst MC Mell'O' rested comfortably inbetween jazz and hardcore. London Posse and Black Radical Mk II were more influenced by Reggae, whilst the Wee Papa Girl Rappers, Cookie Crew and Monie Love produced more radio friendly hip hop, and achieved chart success with it. Other groups developed from the hip hop scene, bringing their own influences to it so successfully that they were considered so different to hip hop that new genres sprang up to describe them - Massive Attack<ref>BBC News website, Massive Attack on the net, 29 Mar 1998, (accessed 02 Nov 06)</ref> with trip hop, or Galliano with Acid Jazz for example.
 False dawn: 1985
Despite the chart success of some British hip hop artists - for example London born Slick Rick, Young MC and Zev Love X, who all moved to the US at an early age - the majority of the scene was still underground and small scale. A mindset began to develop - best typified by the Gunshot tune "No Sell Out" (Vinyl Solution, 1991) or Son of Noise's tune "Poor But Hardcore" from The Mighty Son of Noise (Kold Sweat, 1992) - that distrusted artists who achieved chart success without utilising the hardcore style most associated with the scene. Silver Bullet's chart success was applauded because of an uncompromisingly rapid delivery, whereas Derek B and Rebel MC were scorned when their more pop influenced, unchallenging lyrics earned them success. Divisions like this within the community made it more difficult for British artists to achieve success for fear of being branded "sell outs".
However, things did look promising: Hip Hop Connection - the first major British hip hop magazine - was founded in 1989 and by the early 1990s, the British hip hop scene seemed to be thriving. Not only was there a firm base of rappers in London - legends such as Blade, Black Radical Mk II and Overlord X - but outside of the capital many cities were developing their own distinct scenes. Bristol's scene (specifically, the St. Pauls area) produced The Wild Bunch (later better known as Massive Attack), and major crews like the Scratch Perverts and Smith & Mighty, and later became the home of trip hop. Nottingham was the birthplace of the Stereo MCs, whilst Leeds gave us Braintax and Breaking the Illusion (who between them revolutionized the scene by founding Low Life Records) as well as Nightmares on Wax. Greater Manchester gave birth to the Ruthless Rap Assassins, Krispy 3 (later Krispy), the Kaliphz and MC Tunes. As the scene grew, it became less and less common for British rappers to imitate American accents (those that did were often ridiculed) and British rap became much more assured of its own identity.
Caveman signed to a major label - Profile Records, the label home of Run DMC - and Kold Sweat came into their own, discovering groups like The SL Troopers, Unanimous Decision and Katch 22, whose "Diary of a Blackman" was banned by Radio 1 for using a sound clip from the National Front. In 1991, Hijack released The Horns of Jericho (Rhyme Syndicate Records, 1991) on Ice-T's recently formed Rhyme Syndicate label. The first single, "The Badman is Robbin'", was a top 40 hit and the crew went on sell more than 30,000 albums.
And yet the predicted UK hip hop boom never quite arrived. The Horns of Jericho (Rhyme Syndicate Records, 1991) was never released in the US, and record companies were dropping artists from their lists, citing poor sales and lack on interest. Mango Records was closed down, leaving more UK hip hop artists labelless, and to make matters worse the British public began to turn their affections to drum n bass (jungle), a fusion of hip hop and ragga. British hip hop was also hard hit by the record industry waking up to the implications of sampling, and beginning to charge for the use of samples and prosecute those who used them without permission. The larger US acts could afford to licence a few choice samples and still turn a profit for their labels: the smaller UK artists were barely satisfying their labels' desire for profits as it was, without incurring additional costs from licensing samples.
Between the mid-1990s and the start of 2000, many of the old guard of British hip hop laid down their microphones and got jobs in the real world, and the scene that threatened to become mainstream at any moment remained firmly underground.
 The next generation
But as the old rappers left the scene, the second generation - raised on hip hop and electronica - were coming of age: The Herbaliser released Remedies (Ninja Tune, 1995), Mr Scruff released the "Frolic EP Pt 1" (Pleasure Music, 1995), Mark B released "Any More Questions?" (Jazz Fudge, 1995) and DJ Skitz released "Where My Mind Is At/Blessed Be The Manor" (Ronin Records, 1996) featuring a young rapper called Roots Manuva on guest vocals who had impressed the year previously with his single "Next Type of Motion" (Sound of Money, 1995). New record labels that attempted to merge British hip hop style and sensibilities with modern dance music began to crop up and get noticed, like Mark Rae's Grand Central ( which was home to Aim, Rae & Christian, and Fingathing, among others ) or DJ Vadim's Jazz Fudge. Increasingly, these artists managed to avoid the issues surrounding the use of samples by making music themselves (bands such as the Stereo MCs began playing instruments, and then sampling their own tunes for their records) or searching out more obscure records where a most cost effective licensing deal could be arranged (or the sample could be used with a high degree of certainty that the original artist would never hear about it).
British hip hop began to go through a renaissance<ref>BBC News website: British hip hop renaissance, by Barney Rowntree, 10 Aug 2001, (accessed 02 Nov 06) </ref>, its style shifting from the previous fast hardcore template of its early years and moving into more melodic territory. Mark B and Blade teamed up to record the "Hitmen for Hire EP" (Jazz Fudge, 1998), which featured guest appearances from rising stars Lewis Parker and Mr Thing (of the Scratch Perverts). The EP was a success, and lead to the album The Unknown (Word Play, 2001) and chart success. Roots Manuva, Blak Twang, Mud Family, Taskforce, Phi Life Cypher and Ty all came to the public's attention, and oldschool legends Rodney P, Mike J and MC Mell'O' returned to the microphone.
 21st Century
The birth of black music radio station BBC 1Xtra, in 2002 provided another outlet for hip hop artists, with the genre being a core part of the station's output.<ref>BBC 1Xtra website: hip hop (accessed 02 Nov 06)</ref> The station, available online, DAB radio and digital television showcases many UK acts including the likes of Sway, Klashnekoff and devotes an entire weekend to hip hop every September.<ref>BBC 1Xtra website hip hop weekend 06 (accessed 02 Nov 06)</ref> Further new generation artists emerged following the turn of the century, including Nicky Spesh, Foreign Beggars and Jehst. But at the same time British hip hop also blossomed in new directions, with a new style of electronic music emerging in the early 2000s, influenced heavily by hip hop and UK Garage. The new genre was dubbed grime, but is sometimes called eskibeat or sublow. Notable artists in this first wave include Dizzee Rascal, J-Dawg, Wiley, Sway DaSafo, Lady Sovereign and Kano. There is some controversy over whether grime is just a subgenre of British hip hop or a genre in its own right. Controversy over grime itself such as the regular references to gun culture. Early records such as Pow (Forward Riddim) by grime artist, Lethal Bizzle (and other artists) made numerous references to guns and was subsequently banned from all air play. Even the spoof gangster story "A Fishy Tale" by Nicky Spesh was pulled from Channel U and MTV despite clearly poking fun at such a culture.
Further success followed as The Streets released his album Original Pirate Material (679 Records, 2002), and became one of the first of the new breed of British hip hop artists to gain respectable sales, although his speaking style marked a departure from rapping and resulted in him being shunned by many artists in the scene. However limited commercial success has once again got major record labels looking for the next big thing in British hip hop, and television and radio giving airplay to British hip hop artists like Skinnyman as well as their American counterparts. Artists like Goldie Lookin' Chain also use hip hop and rap in their own way to achieve chart success.
In November 2005, the BBC News website picked up on the growing success of what it called Brithop, a term used to describe the growing number of urban, hip-hop and grime acts emerging in the 21st century.<ref name="brithop">BBC News website:Is UK on Verge of Brithop boom, by Ian Youngs, 21 Nov 2005 (accessed 01 Nov 2006) </ref> The BBC article followed the success of rapper Sway at the MOBO awards. Touch Magazine <ref>Touch Magazine website, (accessed 01 Nov 2006)</ref>also had a leader article on the UK hip-hop scene in November 2005. It included articles about Kano, Rok-Wila, Klashnekoff and Lethal Bizzle. As the end of 2006 came to a conclusion, the artist to shine the brightest certainly in relation to pure units ditributed was an previously unknown producer from Bedford called The Passion HiFi, helped by collaborations with established underground American artists such as DZK, Glasses Malone and Don Juan along with a debut Mixtape that was downloaded 65,000 just times in six days, his popularity and influence in the UK has grown to such an extent that downloads of over 350,000 units <ref name="Soundclick">Soundclick: Soundclick Internet Charts, Nov 2006 (accessed 01 Nov 2006) </ref> along with long time MC partner Switch have become the norm.
 See also
 External links
- Channel U
- Evil Twin Records
- The Most Downloaded Mixtape in Uk Hip Hop History (Free Download)
- Low Life Records history of UK Hip Hop (General history)
- Heroes of UK Hip Hop (Individual artist information)
- The Number 1 UK Hip-hop website
- The UK Hip-Hop Forum
- History of UK Hip Hop
- Heroes of UK Hip Hop
- Lowlife Records
- English Hip Hop
- Rap News UK
- UK hip hop Forum and News
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